How ‘far’ is Chinatown from China

‘Many people often associate fortune cookie with Chinese cuisine, yet I have never had a piece of fortune cookie in China before’

In Manhattan there is a section called Chinatown where people mainly go for Chinese restaurants, cheap souvenirs or markets.

Chinatown. 6,824 miles away from Beijing, the capital of China. How similar is it to the actual China?

As an international student who has grown up in Beijing, I would not recognize Chinatown as where I come from in anyway besides the omnipresent use of the Chinese language. At least it is far from my experience of living in Beijing.

When you step out of the Canal Street station, you see a somewhat dirty street crowded with people. There are little markets for fruits and vegetables, or crafts and souvenirs on the sides of streets, each with two or three middle-aged adults trying to get more customers while using awkward English fragments.

As you make your way out of the crowd, there may be a stranger standing on the corner of a street, forcefully handing you a random newspaper about whatever. Even when people push you around, you rarely hear “Excuse me”. These were just little details that surprised me when I went to Chinatown for the very first time.

The architectures in Chinatown tends to be lower, yet they have stairs outside the building or down under the ground. However, in China, the stairs are always inside the building with extremely rare exceptions. In the restaurants, there are no individual rooms for a large group of people to hang out, whereas in China, almost every restaurant has more space and has a few rooms for larger groups.

Here is a picture of us celebrating a friend’s birthday in an individual room in a restaurant in Shanghai

Even the decorations or designs on the insides are definitely simpler than most restaurants in Beijing.

And everything has a bar.

Even Chinese restaurants here will have bar tables, yet in China there will be none found in restaurants.

As for the Chinese food here, if you search on Yelp there will be a few popular suggestions.

However, my friend Yvette Xu, who has tried those top restaurants, said: “The food here just can’t be compared to those back in China. I don’t really feel at home in Chinatown.”

In fact, there tends to be more Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine in the Chinatown, but in China there are so many more styles of cuisine available across the country.

Many people often associate fortune cookie with Chinese cuisine, yet I have never had a piece of fortune cookie in China before.

When I was shopping in a Hong Kong supermarket in Chinatown, I was also shocked by the arrangement of commodities: an appliance is put on the same shelf as egg roll cookies. Meanwhile, there is also a special section dedicated to selling objects for religious worship. Both cases have never occurred to me for the entire time I was in Beijing. Supermarkets will always be well organized and there will not be any religious elements in them.

Finally, although the name is “Chinatown” it targets a more international customers as well. There is a huge population of people from Hong Kong and perhaps the Fu Jian province, compared to other cities and provinces in mainland China, which leads to a heavy use of English and traditional Chinese characters rather than simplified Chinese.

With a Starbucks under a Chinese jewelry shop, we can see that the Manhattan’s Chinatown is a mixture of both American and Chinese cultures rather than a sole representation of China.

How far is it from being similar to the actual China? It is hard to judge, but as most of my Chinese friends have said from their experience, Chinatown in New York City is so different from the China (at least far from cities like Beijing and Shanghai).

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